Braden Shipley (Hops, 2013) would like your attention

In the fourth and final installment of our investigation into the first Hop to crack the Arizona Diamondbacks’ roster, I’ll take a look at 2013 1st-rounder Braden Shipley. Previously profiled in the race to the big leagues: Aaron Blair, Will Locante, and Jimmie Sherfy.

Shipley is an interesting story. Born and raised about five hours south of Hillsboro in Medford, Oregon, he attended the University of Nevada, quickly becoming the favorite player of Jason Gavigan, our director of ticket operations and Nevada grad.

Shipley didn’t start pitching until his junior year of high school, and when he arrived on his college campus in Reno, he actually played shortstop due to the team’s need at the position. He was no lame duck at short, making second-team all-conference in the Western Athletic Conference as a freshman.

Hillsboro Hops vs Spokane Indians

(Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

In his sophomore and junior years, Shipley focused solely on pitching, and the athleticism he had previously displayed at shortstop played a large role in his development into Arizona’s second-ranked prospect, behind only the newly promoted Archie Bradley. Assuming Bradley remains in the big leagues, Shipley is now Arizona’s top prospect still in the minor leagues.

The Oregon native was taken 15th overall in 2013, and started his professional career in his home state with the Hillsboro Hops. Hillsboro was a nice, local, jumping-off point for Shipley, where he recorded just 19 innings. At lower levels of the minor leagues, evaluators will look more at peripheral statistics like strikeout-to-walk ratio rather than simple, cut-and-dry earned-run-average. Look beyond Shipley’s 7.58 ERA, and instead see that he struck out 24 and walked only 6 batters, and you’ll see that he had the repertoire to get hitters out. A 4:1 K:BB ratio is nothing to sneeze at, and it garnered him a call-up to Long-A South Bend.

In 2013 at South Bend, his peripherals matched up with his ERA. In 20.2 innings in the Midwest League, he worked to a 2.61 ERA and hitters managed to hit just .194 off of him. Needless to say, the organization was excited.

He opened 2014 at South Bend to more success. He threw another 42.3 innings and walked only 11, putting to rest concerns about command. He was promoted to Visalia of the hitter-friendly California League, and managed a 4.03 ERA in 60.1 innings, pitching almost exclusively in hitter-friendly ballparks.

He finished out 2014 in AA Mobile of the Southern League, working to a 3.60 ERA in 20 innings. His performance earned him a spot in Arizona’s big league camp to start the year, where he proved he can make pitches to big-league hitters. He threw 4 innings in big-league spring training, and allowed just one earned run while striking out two.

His growth has earned him praise from national baseball analysts. Just last week, former Diamondback and current ESPN broadcaster and analyst Curt Schilling posted this on his twitter account.

Schilling’s words reference Shipley’s youth when it comes to pitching. For a guy who started pitching full-time just four years ago, he is still new to the craft. As he gains more and more experience in sequencing, command, and repertoire, his natural athleticism will separate him from the batters he is facing. Schilling recognizes this athleticism, the raw stuff Shipley possesses, and the inexperience that will fade quickly with more time on the mound.

Shipley boasts a strong fastball that sits in the mid-90’s that he can pump up into the high 90’s and a curveball that continues to improve the more he throws it, but the breadwinner for him is his change-up. Heralded as the best change-up in the Diamondbacks’ minor-league system, Shipley uses it to get swings-and-misses from hitters and tally up strikeouts.

Shipley was assigned to AA Mobile to start 2015, where he earned an opening-day start and pitched admirably, allowing just one earned run in 6.2 innings while striking out four. It would not be a shock for Shipley to get a call to the big-leagues this year, especially if the Diamondbacks’ rotation struggles, or if injuries beset any members. He still needs some time, and as Schilling alluded to, experience on the mound to iron out command and work on his curveball. Shipley could get a cup of coffee in the big leagues this year when rosters expand to 40 players in September, and if all goes well for him, he should be competing for a spot in the Diamondbacks’ 2016 Opening Day rotation.

So what do you think Hops fans? Who’s going to be the first Hop to play at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona?

68 days until Opening Day.

Twenty-eight Hops (and two managers!) sprouting up

The 2015 Major League Baseball season is finally underway, which means long-season minor-league rosters have been finalized. All told, 28 former Hops players (and two managers!) find themselves on full-season minor league rosters at the start of the 2015 season.

The breakdown:                                              Mobile_BayBears

Mobile BayBears (AA Southern League)

  • Aaron Blair (RHP, Hops, 2013)
  • Will Locante (LHP, Hops, 2013)
  • Jimmie Sherfy (RHP, Hops, 2013)
  • Braden Shipley (RHP, Hops, 2013)
  • Ryan Gebhardt (INF, Hops, 2013)

Visalia Rawhide (Class-A Advanced California League)

  • Tyler Baker (C, Hops, 2014)visalia-rawhide-primary-logo-2-primary
  • J.R. Bradley (RHP, Hops, 2013)
  • Kevin Cron (INF, Hops, 2014)
  • Ryan Doran (RHP, Hops 2013-14)
  • Daniel Gibson (LHP, Hops 2013)
  • Todd Glaesmann (OF, Hops, 2014)
  • Stewart Ijames (OF, Hops, 2014)
  • Jose Jose (LHP, Hops, 2013)
  • Daniel Palka (INF, Hops, 2013)
  • George Roberts (INF, Hops, 2013-14)
  • Johnny Shuttlesworth (RHP, Hops, 2013)
  • Blayne Weller (RHP, Hops, 2013)

Visalia will also be managed by 2014 Hillsboro Hops manager, J.R. House. Hops’ 2014 trainer Chad Moeller will join House in Visalia.

Kane County Cougars (Class-A Midwest League)

  • Nick Baker (RHP, Hops, 2014)kane county
  • Zac Curtis (LHP, Hops, 2014)
  • Cody Geyer (RHP, Hops, 2014)
  • Brent Jones (RHP, Hops, 2014)
  • Brad Keller (RHP, Hops, 2014)
  • Mason McCullough (RHP, Hops, 2014)
  • Jared Miller (LHP, Hops, 2014)
  • Luis Ramirez (RHP, Hops, 2014)
  • Markus Solbach (RHP, Hops, 2014)
  • Stryker Trahan (C, Hops, 2014)
  • Grant Heyman (OF, Hops, 2014)

Audo Vicente, 2013 Hillsboro Hops manager, will open the season as a roving minor-league instructor at Kane County. Sean Light, the 2014 Hops strength and conditioning coach, will also join Kane County.

Here in Hillsboro, we’re still awaiting our opening day roster, but we can feel confident we’ll have plenty of talent coming our way, given that 28 of our former guys have been promoted. Mobile, Visalia, and Kane County all get their seasons started on Thursday, April 9. You can follow all of our former players on www.milb.com.

There is a very, very good chance the first Hop will crack the Diamondbacks in 2015, and if you’re wondering whom, follow Mobile closely. If there is attrition in the major league rotation, or injuries in the bullpen, a former Hop and current BayBear may be called upon.

76 days until Opening Day.

Long Ball Ale six packs to hit stores in April

FullSizeRender (1)

They’re already on shelves at New Seasons in Orenco Station.

The Hillsboro Hops are fortunate to enjoy a fantastic partnership with BridgePort Brewing. BridgePort is the oldest craft brewery in the Portland-metro area, and is responsible for the wonderfully-popular “Long Ball Ale,” the official beer of the Hillsboro Hops. The beer was specially designed to be easy to drink, and is the perfect complement to a sunny summer evening at Ron Tonkin Field.

Which is what makes this next part so fantastic. In early-to-mid-April, grocery stores all over the Portland-metro area will begin stocking 6-packs of Long Ball Ale. The Hillsboro Hops will be the first minor-league baseball team to offer their signature beer in a six pack.2015033195155536

“Beer and baseball is something that just goes hand-in-hand, and we’re excited to see the Long Ball Ale become more accessible to our fans. BridgePort has been wonderful to work with, and the beer has been extremely popular, so it was a no-brainer to get together and bring these six packs to our fans,” said Hops Executive Vice President and General Manager K.L. Wombacher.

Long Ball Ale has been a smash hit among Hop Heads all over Hillsboro–and beyond. We sent a batch of Long Ball down to the Diamondbacks’ Salt River Fields spring training facility in Scottsdale, Arizona, and the beer sold out in 8 days!

The beer was designed with the ballpark in mind, and BridgePort knocked it out of the park. Now, Hop fans all over Oregon will have the chance to enjoy it in the comfort of their own homes as well.

Be on the lookout for Long Ball Ale in grocery stores soon, and be sure to grab yourself a six pack. It won’t be long until you can enjoy one at the ballpark again.

80 days until Opening Day.

Q&A with Hops shortstop Justin Gonzalez

As a Hops community, we like to keep up with our former players as much as we can. A few weeks back, we got to visit with Zac Curtis, Nick Baker, Steve Nyisztor, Felipe Perez, Mike Cetta, and Stewart Ijames when we were down in Scottsdale for Arizona Diamondbacks spring training. It was good to see the champs again, and they all had great things to say about Hillsboro and last season’s championship run.

A few weeks back I shot off an e-mail to last year’s shortstop Justin Gonzalez asking how his off-season was going.  If anyone has ever spent any time around him, they can attest to how nice and genuine a guy Justin is. In the throes of spring training, he took the time to catch up with me and update Hops Nation on how his off-season has been going, how he liked Hillsboro, and to reflect on last year’s championship campaign.

Hop Stove: First things first…how did it feel to win a championship with the Hops in your first year as a professional?

Justin Gonzalez: It was an incredible experience. To be able to be a part of something like that was truly remarkable. The fans contributed tremendously by the support they showed throughout the season.

HS: What made last year’s Hops so special?

JG: I think it was a mixture of chemistry and leadership. As players, everyone understood their individual roles and they bought in from the beginning to going all the way. That’s a huge credit to the coaching staff for communicating and preparing us everyday to not only perform well but win. K.L. and the rest of the Hop staff really did an excellent job of taking care of us on and off the field.

HS: As a native Floridian and a former Florida State Seminole, what was it like to start your career across the country in Hillsboro, Oregon?

JG: I have never experienced anything like it. Hillsboro and really all of Oregon is a really beautiful place.

HS: What was your favorite thing about Hillsboro?

MiLB: Hops vs Tri City

(Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

JG: I would have to say the nature. On the few off days we had, I took advantage and went out to Cannon Beach. I also had the opportunity to go see Silver Falls State Park. Both places were incredible. I had never seen anything like it. Downtown Portland was pretty cool too. Also, my host family Dani and Allan really made my stay in Hillsboro unforgettable.

HS: How was it playing at Ron Tonkin Field? How did it compare to the other stadiums in the Northwest League?

JG: It was awesome. I think the best part about playing there were not only the facilities but the fans. Overnight it seemed like it was a packed house. It’s a long season and it can get monotonous, but when you have fans like that it definitely gives you more of a reason to play.

HS: We’re in the off-season now. What have you been doing to get ready for the 2015 season?

JG: I really have been working on getting my body healthy for the upcoming year. That was my primary focus this off-season. I also have been in the weight room and on the field every other day. Working on some things that I learned over the summer.

HS: You told me earlier you’ve started playing guitar over the off-season. How’s that going? What’s your favorite song to play?

JG: Well let’s just say I won’t be playing in concert anytime soon. I figured I would try and teach myself to occupy some downtime I had. I have a new found respect for musicians. I really haven’t learned many songs. Mainly learning the chords and getting comfortable transitioning between them.

HS: The Diamondbacks selected you in the 9th round of the 2014 MLB First-Year Player Draft. You had been drafted twice before but didn’t sign. What’s it like to get that phone call, knowing you’re going to sign this time around?

JG: It definitely was exciting and nervewracking each time, but this time around to actually sign was a moment I would never forget. All the hard work had finally paid off to get here, but now a different journey begins. I really am grateful to the Diamondbacks for this opportunity.

HS: Have you set any goals for 2015? What would you like to accomplish?

JG: Well, I don’t really have any specific expectations for this season. I’m going to just stay in the moment and enjoy the ride. Doing my best to stay in the moment and compete the best I can, with the goal of becoming a complete player and teammate.

We’d like to give another big thank you to Justin for taking the time to chat, and also for his contributions as a player and teammate to our 2014 Northwest League Championship. He’s been very busy preparing for the upcoming season, and we wish him well in camp and beyond. Stay healthy, Justin!

91 days until Opening Day.

Ducks to take on Seattle U at Ron Tonkin Field April 1

We’re 96 days away from the Hops’ home opener on June 23. Daunting, I know, but less so than it was about a week ago. BUT! What if I told you that you could actually watch a baseball game at Ron Tonkin Field in just 14 days? Well, you’re in luck! On April 1 at 6 PM, the University of Oregon Ducks will square off with the Seattle University Redhawks in the first-ever NCAA Division I baseball game played at Ron Tonkin Field, home of your Hillsboro Hops.

“We’re always eager to show off the incredible facility we have in Hillsboro at Ron Tonkin Field. But on top of that, to be able to bring a national power like the Ducks in to play a talented Seattle squad is something we wanted to do for our fans,” said Hops Executive Vice President and General Manager K.L. Wombacher.

The Ducks made a fast ascension to national prominence following the reinstatement of their baseball program in 2009. At time of writing, Oregon is on the cusp of a Top-10 national ranking sitting at #11 in the country. Oregon is led by George Horton, who steered Cal State Fullerton to the 2004 College World Series Championship.

Oregon finished the 2014 season with a 44-20 overall record, including an 18-12 mark in Pac-12 conference play. They feature a bevy of potentially professional talent on this year’s roster, including LHP Cole Irvin and INF Matt Eureste, both of whom have already been drafted before.

Seattle is led by INF Sheldon Stober, who is currently among the league leaders in the Western Athletic Conference with a .342 batting average through the first 20 games of the season.

It will be the collegiate debut for Ron Tonkin Field, as this game will serve as the first NCAA Division I game played in Hillsboro. The game will be a fantastic showcase of baseball talent in the Pacific Northwest, and also of the ballpark we are so fortunate to call home.

Tickets are available at www.hillsborohops.com. You can also call into the office at (503) 640-0887, and a Hops staffer will be happy to assist you.

Duck fans: this is an opportunity to see a talented Oregon squad without having to head two hours down the I-5 to Eugene. It’s not everyday that a top-15 team comes to you! And who knows? Maybe there is a future Hop on the field.

14 days until the Ducks play. 96 days until the Hops play.

Hops E.V.P. and GM K.L. Wombacher joins 620 AM

Hops’ General Manager K.L. Wombacher joined Bunker and Danforth on Rip City Radio 620 AM Tuesday morning to talk all things Hops. Be sure to listen here.

Will Locante turning heads in D-backs’ spring

Spring training is in full swing for our parent club Arizona Diamondbacks, and there are friendly Hop faces abound at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Arizona. Three of our former friends are in camp with the big club: starting pitchers Braden Shipley and Aaron Blair, and relief pitcher Will Locante. All three project to be future big leaguers, and will certainly draw some attention as the spring progresses.

Locante is an interesting case. A few months back, we posted two separate features on relief pitcher Jimmie Sherfy and the aforementioned Blair as the two former Hops most likely to crack the big club first. Locante is a left-handed reliever who was a Northwest League All-Star in 2013 and Midwest League All-Star in 2014. His rise saw him added to the Diamondbacks’ 40-man roster in November of 2014, and also cemented him as a serious competitor in the race for the first Hop to reach the big leagues.

An addition to the 40-man roster is no small accomplishment. Being a part of the 40-man means the player is protected from being selected by another big league team in the Rule 5 Draft. It is essentially a large vote of confidence in the prospect and an indication that the Diamondbacks have long-term plans for Locante. Here’s a tweet from Nick Piecoro, the Diamondbacks’ beat writer for AZcentral Sports.

The southpaw features nasty stuff. He comes at hitters from sort of a ¾ arm slot with a fastball that sits in the mid-to-high 90’s. He also has a sharp slider that works as a fantastic put-away pitch. Locante can pitch to both lefties and righties, but is particularly effective against lefties.

His biggest flaw historically has been command, but he has made significant strides in shoring it up. After walking 31 batters in 42 innings in 2013, he rebounded in 2014 to issue just 23 free passes in 53 innings. His walk rate is still above the ideal number, but it is certainly trending in the right direction.

Hillsboro Hops vs Boise Hawks

Locante is an extremely athletic left handed pitcher with a live arm and quirky delivery. Might he be the first former Hop to reach Phoenix? (Hillsboro Hops/Craig Mitchelldyer)

Locante has never pitched above Long-A ball in his career, but his rapid progression and improving command has moved him onto the fast-track to the big leagues. Diamondbacks’ MLB.com reporter Steve Gilbert commented recently on the March 3rd edition of the Diamondbacks official podcast that Locante has a legitimate chance to make the big club out of spring. (16:10 on the 3/3 edition)

Locante is presently engaged in a spring-training competition with MLB-veteran left-handers Oliver Perez and the recovering Matt Reynolds. Major league teams typically like to carry a few left-handed bullpen arms, and especially prefer those who can get both left and right-handed batters out. As Reynolds continues to rehab from Tommy John surgery, Locante may have an opportunity to crack the big club.

Locante has only made one appearance in spring training with the Diamondbacks so far, pitching a scoreless inning in a scrimmage against the Arizona State Sun Devils on March 3rd. Locante will have no shortage of opportunities to prove himself as the season nears, and if he continues to show improved command and swing-and-miss stuff, he may find himself on a major-league mound come April.

What do you think Hops fans? Will we see Locante on the big club this year? Or will Blair, Sherfy, or someone else, ahem, Braden Shipley, beat him there? Be on the lookout for a feature on Shipley coming soon.

109 days until Opening Day.

Luis Gonzalez on Portland Talk Radio

Hillsboro Hops Fund Banquet guest and 5-time MLB All-Star Luis Gonzalez joined The Bald Faced Truth with John Canzano on 750 AM to talk about the upcoming Hops Fund Banquet, his own baseball career, and life after baseball. If you want to hear more from Luis, we’d love to have you join us at the banquet. The event will take place on Saturday, March 7 at 5:30 PM at NW Events & Environments in Hillsboro. You can get your tickets at http://www.hillsborohops.com/banquet, or you can call into the office any time at (503) 640-0887, and we’d be happy to assist you. Gonzalez will be joined by former All-Star closer J.J. Putz at the banquet. Hope to see you there!

Gonzalez also joined Brian Wheeler on 620 AM Rip City Radio last Friday to talk about the Hops banquet.

Hops’ Silent Auction Update!

We are just fifteen days from the 2nd Annual Hillsboro Hops Fund Banquet, which will be held on Saturday, March 7, starting at 5:30 PM at Northwest Events & Environments in Hillsboro. Here’s a look at another item that will be available at our silent auction, courtesy of our friends at TaylorMade Golf.

They have graciously donated an R15 driver, 3-wood and 5-wood, and a set of RSi2 irons. With the weather starting to turn, it sure would be nice to have these clubs in the bag.DSC_2613

They have also donated 12 dozen golf balls stamped with our Hillsboro Hops logo! A huge thank you to TaylorMade Golf for their contributions to our banquet, and for the youth of Washington County. It is much appreciated, and is going towards a fantastic cause.

Tickets are on sale now for the banquet at http://www.hillsborohops.com/banquet. You can also call in any time at (503) 640-0887 and we’d be happy to help you over the phone. Former big-league All-Stars Luis Gonzalez and J.J. Putz will be there to provide the entertainment for the evening.

Hope to see you there!

Four months and four days

Here we sit on February 19, four months and four days from opening day. There is some good news: we are due to spring ahead, which reduces our wait time for the season opener by one hour. Instead of waiting 7440 hours, it’s really only 7439, which is downright doable. If the dog days of summer consist of the slog through July and August, surely the offseason must have a comparable colloquialism. Cat days?

Rest assured Hops Nation, the extended offseason does nothing to deter the ever-working hands of Hops staff members. A championship campaign in Hillsboro provides no time for laurel-resting, and thus, we have striven to make 2015 just as memorable as 2014.

Our players have done the same. Here’s a glimpse of how the offseason has been for a few of last year’s Hops, courtesy of their personal Twitter pages.

Grant Heyman (@grantheyman23) uses the cage to escape the cold New York winters.

Elvin Soto (@ElvinSoto04) celebrated his birthday in the Dominican Republic. Besides being a talented backstop, Elvin is bilingual and capable of communicating wonderfully with our Spanish-speaking farmhands, a must in the relationship between pitchers and catchers.

Steve Nyisztor (@NyisztorSteve) ran into a wallet-bandit, but managed to have the last laugh. Keep smiling, Steve!

Stryker Trahan (@strykert25) spends his time on the baseball field in a crouch, but got down on one knee a while back. Now the fun part begins. Here’s what his bride-to-be had to say:

It’s easy to forget that the guys on the field are just that: guys. They’re human beings who travel, get their wallets stolen, and watch TV. Last year we were lucky enough to have championship-caliber players on the field, and good men off the field.

On the day pitchers and catchers report for spring training, we’d like to wish good luck to all of our former Hops as they embark on another baseball season.

124 days until Opening Day.

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